The Nature of Reflection

March 28, 2017:

Batman checks up on The Dark Devil on one of her short visits back to Gotham after moving to NYC.

Azalea's Sanctum

An old garage in a mostly depressed and abandoned part of Gotham's Solemn Row, it appears mostly mundane at first, but has some of the more interesting Bat-Tech hidden behind it's facade.


NPCs: None.

Mentions: Joker


Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…



The garage that Azalea's mentor had set her up with had mostly been vacant since she got it, but not tonight. Circumstance and obligation had drawn her to New York as of late, and her message to Batman had been a simple one: New York needs me for a little while, but I won't be gone forever. Probably good to expand my horizons anyway.

Only a few weeks had past and she had returned. Probably not for long, but the sensors in the garage would have let Batman know she had come back, at least for now. Tonight she is in most of her uniform, kneeling by the bike he had given her to change out one of the ties. The old one had taken a rocket hit, you see, and though it held up in the moment, one of the spares off the rack was warranted.

The screen in front of her reads a dossier on The Joker, and some known associates. Minor players. A few thug-types who had worked for him or with him in the past. Her crystal blues cant up, and she watches the file footage of him in custody. That ricktus grin, those wild eyes.

She remembers being worse, and sometimes wonders if he'd understand the kind of creature she was, were they to come face to face. The thought drifts away and she spins the tire in place before lowering the bike from the work station.

"Good as new."

There is a certain, underappreciated artistry to being a mechanic. It's a talent that few would associate with Batman— many might think of the martial expertise or the near prescience of his detective skills.

But with wrench in hand, teaching Azalea the ins and outs of assembling a disc brake, one might gain a newfound appreciation for the skill that goes into being able to face, tune, and tighten a set of calipers using only the crudest of available tools.

"You'll need to run it in a bit. Adjust the calipers again once you've done some aggressive braking, and keep an eye on the alignment," he advises her. "Frame damage can have some peculiar long-term effects on your axle orientation."

As The Dark Devil rises she gives a grim nod. She was certain she felt the whole bike warp in the blast that it had eaten, but she couldn't be certain. It seemed fine after she picked it up, and chalked some of it up to advanced construction. She didn't know all the ins and outs of the bike - it had some secrets to share yet, but even if it were a stripped down version of what the other Batlings used, she was already in love with it. It had already helped her save lives.

"I'll take it for a couple test drives tomorrow, and do just that." She looks away from the bike and back up to the Joker readout, and finally speaks to the computer. "Enough. Shut it off." Azalea turns to set a wrench on her work bench, and then sits down on it, her eyes roaming over cowl and suit and the odd situation of two heroes playing monkeywrench.

"I wonder what kind of frame damage fucked his axle orientation. I wonder sometimes how you don't just… you know. Even when I know the answer. Even when I know the dark pit. But guys like him, the ones you know can't be held, and consider a murder a flirtation device. What a fucking mess."

Batman's quiet, wiping his gloves on a rag to remove the last lingering bits of surface oil, and regards Azalea with an unreadable gaze.

"There are points where there are failures in the law," he says, his tone quiet and neutral. "Cops who won't enforce it. Prosecutors who won't act on it. These are the gaps we fill, the lines we draw to help protect people."

"The Joker seems like an easy candidate for a 'special exception' to the rule," he remarks, quietly. As if he's thinking out loud, rather than lecturing. "But is it just to punish a man who's insane? Or, are we so god-like we can judge insanity from evil?" he inquires, his tone verging towards rhetorical.

"It'd be easy to -end- Joker. We all know that. The danger is the slippery slope you can follow. You've seen the work of Red Hood," he reminds Azalea. "He wouldn't hesitate to kill Joker. He doesn't hesitate to kill most people," Batman points out. "A dangerous mentality when you're the only one holding a gun. He's flirting the line between vigilante and villain, and that's a dangerously narrow rope to tread under the best of circumstances."

Or, are we so god-like that we can judge insanity from evil?

Those words draw her gaze down and to the bike again, her arms sliding into a slow cross. "The thing inside me is a God." Now adays, as things have become harder, as routine has failed her, she has nearly forgotten what she has told him, and could never know what Batman has discovered on his own about Xiuhnel, the Sky Serpent. Her Dark Passenger. "I've seen how Gods act."

It is the easiest way to to tell him that she's come to agree. Her and Batman both shared The Rule before they met, and it was the same slippery slope she had hoped to avoid. Being reminded of the Red Hood reinforces it all.

That could so easily be her.

"I kept thinking about him after he stormed Trish Walker's studio and stabbed her mother. I blamed you at first. Then I blamed me. I even went looking for him. I was… I don't know. I just kept picturing the moment when he realized the kind of monster I am. That I wasnt just hurting him, like you might. That I was going to go farther. I tried to imagine it, and couldn't know if he'd ever know terror, or just blind glee, thinking about what it would mean to you. I stopped looking for him after that. It felt like playing his game."

"The thing inside you is a malevolent entity of incredible power," Batman agrees. "But God? All-knowing? Omnipotent? Perfect? I doubt that very much," he says, head shaking slightly. "I've met many beings who styled themselves as gods over the years— but none of them were perfect. Just powerful," he says, leaving it unsaid— that power doesn't equal perfection.

"Joker is nothing -but- the game, and the game is all he has," Batman tells Azalea, his tone strangely reassuring. Cloak set aside, out of the way, he rests his hips against a stool. Unreadable white lenses focus on her face. "I'd like to say I understand him, but honestly, I don't think anyone really -can- understand him. Every time I think I'm getting close, he does something unexpected. Sometimes he acts like he's provoking people into reaction, and others… it seems like he's in his own little world."

"The point is that long ago I learned that just when you think you have a handle on Joker, is when he's most likely to flip your hypothesis over on your head."

As The Batman describes the thing inside her and casts his doubts her gaze shifts sidelong. Uncertainty tugs at her expression, but she could not argue his point. Who knows if it's somantics, or if there's a real power threshold. Who really knows what Xiuhnel was before his heart was ripped out. Perhaps only one, maybe two. They aren't talking.

"I'm not saying I wouldn't knock his ass out in a dark alley if I come across him, but I'll probably leave him to you. Until I figure out if I'm still sane or not. Until I learn a little more. Speaking of.. I cleared out the Skullduggers in Gotham. The last few moved on to New York, and I'm working on them there. I still haven't cracked the occult angle, but I'm getting closer."

Azalea pushes off of her bench and walks towards the bike again, the look of reverence clear. "I meant to ask, before I started talking about grim shit… who taught you to work on engines? Your dad?"

It's an idle curiosity, mostly because she's certain he learned his variety of skills from all over. But something about the way he works with machines felt more personal. Or maybe, just maybe it was her imagination.

Batman finishes cleaning his gloves and sets the rag aside in a pile, to be dealt with later. "Joker's best strength has never been how hard he hits with his hands," he tells Azalea, ignoring her more personal question. "It's where he hits your vulnerable places. Your ego, your pride— your sense of insecurity. Family. Friends. He's a master manipulator. Not to mention a dangerous chemist," Batman adds, belatedly. "Sometimes he plays the fool so well it's easy to forget how smart he really is. Which is, again— part of what makes him so dangerous. He rarely presents the same face twice."

As her question slips by she looks up and into the white lenses that cover his eyes. She's always had the kind of gaze that seems to cut through, an intensity that no one her age or size should possess. But just behind it is the girl, and not the god-thing. Just behind it is someone struggling to understand, to absorb his knowledge, and not repeat his mistakes.

"He's what you or I would become if we ever became our worst."

So far Azalea has only seen a fraction of her mentor's tricks, but she knows his fists and feet and tech are not his greatest assets. "No wonder he won't leave you alone." There's a shake of her head, and she finally looks away, giving a tap of her boot to the tire of her beloved bike. "I didn't mean to pry, by the way. I just haven't ever seen you enjoy anything, until you worked on a bike with me. I wonder how you keep from becoming like him. Rules are great but.. you have to have more than this, right? It's okay, isn't it? To have people you care about?"

Is she asking permission? Sure seems like it.

What little good humor that might have swirled around him seems to vanish as Batman withdraws, inch by inch until there's little humanity around him anymore. Becoming more stoic— more gargoyle-esque. Something in the Uncanny Valley, neither human or automaton.

"In the end, everyone will let you down. People stumble. Politics shift. Civilizations crumble," he says, reaching for his cloak and pulling it into place. He vanishes into the light-absorbing fabric like a spectre reassuming his shroud. "In the end, the only thing we can rely on is ourselves. Our training, our purpose. Our sense of focus," he rasps. "If your focus— your motives— are pure and absolute, then your will and ability will follow."

"To do this— this life— requires more than being human, at times. And superhuman effort deserves superhuman motvations." Those eyeless white lenses turn towards Azalea. "I leave it to you to decide what cause is— or isn't— worthy enough to tame a god and turn it into an aspect for Justice."

And with that, Batman opens the secret sliding door out of Azalea's personal sanctum, and departs without a look back.

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